Interview with the founder and CEO of PsycApps Silja Litvin on the mental health app eQuoo

It is no news that our lives are fast-paced and stressful, trying our best to balance work, family, health and everything else. Anxiety has become a widely present malady among young adults, many of whom are trying to face it by themselves.

Silja Litvin is psychologist, and the founder and CEO of PsycApps Digital Mental Health and the developer of eQuoo. Her company uses AI, gamification and psychology to help people maintain their mental health and to work on their interpersonal relationship skills.

eQuoo might be exactly what we all need on our portable devices. It is an award winning Emotional fitness game, which “builds resilience, boosts relationship skills, supercharges your personal development AND lowers anxiety”. I have tried it myself and found it interesting and engaging, which is why it is my pleasure to have Silja Litvin here today, who will be explaining eQuoo in more depth and the ideas behind it.

Silja, could you tell us how you came up with the idea for eQuoo and what your first course of action was?

When you study psychology, you learn all about disorders, treatments and symptoms, but you don’t learn about health care. I was really shocked to learn that only 35% of the people in need of mental health care actually have access to treatment. It’s too little, too late. At the time there was a bit of research emerging that web-based interventions were effective and people were moving away from web towards smartphones and apps. So I thought to myself: let’s build something that can scale, and because it can scale, it will also be affordable. So I developed an app called PsycAppsE (still in the Apple app store) and we did a clinical trial that proved it was almost as effective as medication against depression. Unfortunately, the drop off rates were really high, which is the most common issue with mental health apps: the APA says that people spend on average of 2 min on a mental health app – obviously not enough to have an impact on their wellbeing.

How is eQuoo different from other mental health apps on the market?

As mentioned above, I learned the hard way that people don’t stick to mental health apps. So I tried to figure out how we could get people to stick to something that’s beneficial to them. Looking at my target audience of young adults, I saw that 70% of them are casual gamers, so what better way to keep users than gamifying prevention and early intervention?!

How can eQuoo help people cope with this often debilitating anxiety?

eQuoo teaches a lot of the most common Cognitive Behavioral Therapy skills for anxiety. But instead of working with a therapist or working your way through a self-help book with exercises, it teaches them in small tutorials and then you get to practice those skills in a low-cost environment (the game). 80% of our players say they practice the skills in a real world situation within a week, and that’s where the effect kicks in.

I played eQuoo myself, and I really enjoyed the different scenarios presented in the mini games, not only because of how it made me reflect on my actions, but also because of how it taught me to be more present in the moment – which is something we are collectively not so good at! These situations that we see in eQuoo, how can they help us in our day-to-day life?

Each and every skill taught in eQuoo is beneficial for processing emotionally and mentally stressful situations in a healthy and beneficial way. That makes it valuable for people who are interested in personal growth as well as people who are in vulnerable situations (Now, during the pandemic, who ISN’T vulnerable!?) or who are already experiencing low levels of depression and anxiety. The situations in the game are ‘fantastic’ but they’re still about human interactions and the way we think about the world.

How did these interesting stories come to life?

We have an amazing content writer, Arie Kaplan, who is a Marvel and DC comic writer. He’s the creative brain of our story engine and brought my vision into life. It is such a delight reading his stories, I’m so pleased to have him on board.

I am personally interested in neuroplasticity and how it is supposed to help people with all kinds of disorders, mental and physical. Can eQuoo help us to “rewire” our brains as well?

Yes: what happens is, that 1) if you learn something in a fun and interesting way you release Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel excitement. But it’s also like a post it note for the brain: you’re much more likely to remember something you learned while having fun than if not. And if you practice it often enough (in the game and then later in real life), it becomes a part of your cognition. 2) That’s when cognitive restructuring has occurred and it’s permanent.

What are some of your plans for future projects and do you think entrepreneurship will be facing more challenges in the time ahead?

I have great plans for eQuoo. I would like to incorporate AR into the game: just imagine you need to collect AR coins by walking around the block to open a treasure chest! I also like the idea of personalization and a multi-player mental health game. Entrepreneurship will always be a challenge, I think it depends on how the market reacts to COVID and if a huge recession is coming that will make it harder for small businesses to develop and grow. If you have an idea, make sure to stress-test the idea before investing all your resources, but once you’re ready, really dive in!

Try out eQuoo game today!

Download on Google Play and App Store

We wish to give big THANK YOU to Silja Litvin for sharing her insight and news on eQuoo game development!

Interview by Milica Bulatovic

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